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Friday, July 24, 2015

Headscarfs in the Arab World

BBC World Service - The World This Week, Iran's Nuclear Deal Boosts its Spending Power:

Ranja Sabri (sp?) of BBC Arabic:

"I was recently sitting in the Avenue Habibo Theba (sp?), the main street in Tunis, watching people fight back anxiety after the attacks on tourists on a beach that would surely paralyze tourism, their main source of foreign currency.

After a few moments, I realised that rather than wondering about the future, I was actually staring at Tunisian women, dressed in clothes that were more revealing than what women wear where I come from in Cairo. But it wasn't only the clothes that caught my eye. It was the bright colours and the confidence with which they carried themselves.

I'm not a conservative by any means, so catching myself in this act confused me. Until I discovered that I'm no longer used to seeing women who are prettily dressed. If you had been living in Cairo for the past 40 years, you'd have been a witness to the changing women's taste in clothing.

They cover themselves in swathes of fabric in line with the rising sense of religiosity. The intention is to appear less sexually attractive. The area of what is permissible for females in Cairo in terms of clothes or actions has been shrinking over the years.

Images of university students in the last century in Egypt show no veiled women or women wearing headscarfs until the late 80s.

Moving into the 90s, younger women covering their hair in colleges were a minority. And they would have been bought (sic) up either in the Gulf countries or in the countryside.

To get a sense of how things are today I'm the only female in my entire family who does not cover her hair. Women without headscarves are a minority, not just in my family, but in the entire country.

Harassment and looks of contempt from men and women on the streets make life for unveiled females difficult. Some of my friends have told me they have begun wearing the headscarf as a relief.

I don't have to worry about my bare head in the areas I dwell in in the capital Cairo, but had I been living in poor or rural areas, I wouldn't have had the courage to stay bareheaded.

In Egypt many women saw the freedoms offered by the Arab Spring as a chance to put aside their veils and headscarves, but some wouldn't dream of doing so.

Shireen Wahabba (sp?), a university professor, sees the veil as a integral part of who she is.

"It makes me very sad to see a friend of mine take off her veil. It is as if she had made a deal with Allah, then went back on it", she tells me. She says she would love her daughter to take up the veil, but will wait until she decides for herself, noting that not many of her peers are.

The Arab Spring bought (sic) with it wider discussion on whether society had the right to dictate what women should wear. For instance, recently a young woman published a post on Facebook asking young women what they would like to do if religious issues were put aside.

More than a thousand responded. It might have been a small sample but it told a sad story. Most wanted to wear dresses and feel the wind in their hair. A few wanted to let go of the colours favoured by religious conservatives: black, blue , brown and beige, and wear red or yellow for a change.

The post attracted criticism from people who accused the young woman of destabilising social norms and creating havoc.

Eventually, she felt forced to remove it.

Such tensions were sensed recently in Morocco where two young women were sent to court accused of violating the public dress code when they chose to wear skirts which were shorter than usual. The women were eventually acquitted after a series of protests in which women in headscarfs participated because they believed a woman should have the right to choose how she dresses.

The Arab Spring was an attempt by people across the Middle East to overthrow oppressive dictatorships, but it also revealed some of the differences and contradictions at the heart of our societies, including over what women should wear.

Some of us will continue to fight to be pretty, even if the Old Guard doesn't like it"
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